I finally accomplished a perfect week last week. All it took was a week with just four games, which is significantly less than there usually is. Or, maybe, I elevate my game when the games matter most. Just like Nick Foles, Julian Edelman, and Raheem Mostert, I might just be a big-game player. We’ll put that theory to the test this week in the conference championship games. There are just two games this week, but they are the biggest games of the season so far. The players are certainly going to be stepping it up in order to make it to the Super Bowl. Can I also step my game up this week and correctly predict both games? Keep reading to find out.
San Francisco 49ers (+2.5) over Philadelphia Eagles
At this point, we all know what both of these teams are. Physical, smart, dynamic, and just plain-old good at football. This is an incredible matchup. Nick Bosa versus Lane Johnson. The Eagles’ historic defensive line versus Trent Williams and the 49ers’ offensive line. Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk versus James Bradberry and Darius Slay. A.J. Brown and Jalen Hurts versus Fred Warner and Talanoa Hufanga. There are going to be elite players going at it wherever you look on the field. But the key is a guy who is far from elite (at least for now): Brock Purdy. This is a huge moment for Purdy but after handling the pressure of being the last player in the draft and taking over a Super Bowl-caliber team, he seems to be up for anything. How Purdy handles a very good Philadelphia defense will be what decides the game. Luckily for Purdy, he has arguably the best play-caller and schemer in the league in Kyle Shanahan. If Shanahan can figure out a way for his young quarterback to get the ball to his weapons and let Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, and Samuel do their things then the 49ers can absolutely win this game. They will also have to defend, obviously, but that has kind of been their strong suit this year. Hurts and the rest of the Eagles’ offense are going to give the 49ers their toughest test of the season for sure but I believe in the talent on the San Francisco defense. This is going to be an incredible chess match of a game, but I’m predicting that the Niners will outscheme and outplay the Eagles on their way to an impressive Super Bowl appearance.
Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5) over Cincinnati Bengals
Very rarely does one of these uber-important games come down to one singular thing, and even more rarely is that one thing a player’s joint. But that is the case in this game, where Patrick Mahomes’s ankle may be the most important ankle in the world right now. The Bengals’ defense has had success against Mahomes in the past, including last year’s AFC Championship Game, thanks to the brilliance of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. And in those other games, Mahomes wasn’t dealing with a potentially compromising ankle injury. The Bengals have the players on defense to disrupt Mahomes. Trey Hendrickson is a very good pass-rusher, Logan Wilson is a versatile linebacker that excels in coverage, and Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, and Mike Hilton can make plays in the secondary. But the Chiefs aren’t stupid. They know they’ve been beaten by this team before and will probably have answers ready for what the Bengals will do to them. The key will be getting the ball to Travis Kelce, who is coming off of arguably the best postseason game by a tight end ever. The Bengals will surely try their best to prevent him from getting the ball, but that doesn’t seem to be something that is possible. If Mahomed and Kelce can keep connecting then that will open up things for Isaiah Pacheco, Jerrick McKinnon, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others, which will in turn take pressure off Mahomes and his ankle. On the other hand, Joe Burrow likely isn’t feeling any pressure because he seems to be impervious to it. His matchup with the Chiefs’ defense is a little less interesting because that defense isn’t as intimidating, but that doesn’t mean things can’t get entertaining. Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Nick Bolton, L’Jarius Sneed, and Justin Reid are all capable of making plays and swinging the game in their favor. The Chiefs have also gotten better at defending Burrow each time they’ve played, so they may have a trick up their sleeve. Of course, it’s going to take more than an upsleeve trick to stop Ja’marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Joe Mixon, but we will soon find it if that will be the case. As much as I like Burrow and his offense, I’m not picking against Mahomes, even with a bum ankle. I think this could be a defining moment in his already impressive career if he’s able to lead his team to victory.